The Light of the World

The Light of the World

Most of you have probably seen the famous painting of Jesus holding a lantern as evening falls, while knocking on a door, hoping to have it opened to Him. There’s no handle or doorknob on the door, for it represents the human heart—which can only be opened from the inside. This painting by William Holman Hunt is called “The Light of the World,” and the original is in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Because of all the automobile traffic near the cathedral, the painting—which was done in the early 1850s—became quite dirty over the years, so the church staff sent it to some art restoration experts. When the experts removed the painting from its frame in order to begin working on it, they discovered something no one was ever meant to see. Along the bottom of the painting, beneath the molding, the artist had written the words, “Forgive me, Lord Jesus, that I kept You waiting so long!” (William J. Bausch, More Telling Stories, Compelling Stories, p. 2). Evidently it had taken many years before the artist opened the door of his own heart to the Lord—though fortunately he finally did. Today we are challenged to look at our own lives and see whether our hearts are open to Jesus. Almost certainly we haven’t locked these doors or closed them in the Lord’s face (otherwise we likely wouldn’t be here at Mass). However, it’s entirely possible we’ve only cracked our doors or just opened them part-way—in which case Jesus is asking us for full access to our lives. This is the most crucial and important decision we can make, for only by throwing open the doors to our hearts can we expect one day to enter the gates of Heaven.

Part of the mystery of God is that He is, at one and the same time, very strict and demanding, and also very understanding and easy-going. In the Book of Numbers (11:25-29), instead of disqualifying the two elders who remained in the camp, the Lord sent His Spirit upon them just like everyone else, and as Moses explained to Joshua, we must not attempt to put limits on what the Lord can do or to whom He can give His gifts. As we see in the Gospel of Mark (9:38-43, 45, 47-48), Jesus welcomed the news that someone who was not one of His followers was nevertheless using His Name to drive out demons, and He promised that anyone who merely gave a drink of water to one of His disciples would surely be rewarded. Our Lord welcomes every genuine expression of good will, no matter how seemingly routine or insignificant. At the same time, however, Jesus uses the shocking images of cutting off one’s own hand or foot, or plucking out one’s eye, in order to avoid sin and not take the risk of missing out on eternal life. St. James (5:1-6) uses similarly harsh words against those members of the Christian community who have become rich through dishonest and immoral means; a severe judgment awaits them, unless they repent. God calls each one of us, and depending on whether or not we choose to hear and respond, His call will turn out to be an announcement of either an eternal blessing or an everlasting curse. Our future experience of Divine Judgment will be a pleasant one only if we sincerely try to open our hearts to the Lord here and now; nothing we can ever do matters more than this.

Earlier I mentioned a famous painting most of us have seen; many of us are also familiar with a famous statue representing legal Justice: a woman holding both the scales of justice and a sword for enforcing judgment and punishment, while being blindfolded as a representation of honesty and impartiality. That’s the ideal human justice is supposed to strive for, but the ideal of Divine Justice is better illustrated by a painting in the Supreme Court building in Switzerland, reminding us that everyone—including those in positions of judgment and authority—will one day experience God’s judgment. This painting shows a woman, representing Justice, not wearing a blindfold, but pointing with her sword to a book labeled “The Word of God” (Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book, p. 216). It is our openness to the Word of God in Scripture, and in the teachings and Tradition of the Church, which will determine whether God deals with us strictly or mercifully; the decisions we make and the values we live by every day will either condemn us to hear Jesus say “Depart from Me into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” or fill us with relief and delight upon hearing Our Lord’s words “Well done, good and faithful servant; come, share your Master’s joy.”

This being the case, we must take our Christian duties very seriously, remembering that—as Catholics—more will be expected of us, due to our access to the fullness of the Church’s spiritual treasures and resources. If we do not truly have a personal relationship with Jesus, it’s time to open our hearts to Him as fully as we can. The first step is to pray in all honesty and humility: “Lord Jesus, I want You to be the Lord of my life in all things; please forgive me, guide me, and fill me with Your Holy Spirit.” A simple and sincere prayer in these or similar words is very pleasing to God, and He will certainly respond to it with great favor and blessings.

Even if we do already have a personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ, it’s one we should seek to deepen and renew. At no point in His public ministry did Jesus ever say, “Okay, I’ve done enough; now I’ll take it easy.” No, Our Lord always wanted to do more for His people, even to the point of dying on the Cross. While few of us will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom, all of us should strive to be generous and wholehearted in our response to the Lord’s call, whatever it may be—for it’s always true that the more we give to God, the more we receive back, and the more we strive to love others in Christ’s Name, the happier we ourselves become.

Jesus warns us of the reality of hell, referred to in the Gospel as Gehenna, for it does exist, and it’s a real possibility if we’re not genuinely trying to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Our Lord expects us to put Him at the center of our lives, to take seriously our moral and spiritual duties as Catholics, to bear witness to His truth in all we say and do, to give an example of mercy and compassion, and to offer our prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners—especially those who have so far stubbornly closed their hearts to the call of Divine Grace. Love stands knocking at the door. You and I must answer with humble faith in Jesus, throwing open the door to our hearts and welcoming the only One Who can save us.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper